Can the UN’s SDGs Live Up to the Hype?

At a luncheon to promote the new global goals, people from the private sector mingled with heads of state. Here, Angela Merkel of Germany, Ban Ki-moon of the UN, and Bono, the singer. KIM HAUGHTON/UN PHOTO
At a United Nations luncheon to promote the new global goals, people from the private sector mingled with heads of state. Here, Angela Merkel of Germany, left, Ban Ki-moon of the UN and Bono, the musician. KIM HAUGHTON/UN PHOTO

When the United Nations’ member states gave final approval at a special General Assembly session on Sept. 25 to the new global development policy, they were making a commitment to the most wide-ranging and ambitious plan ever attempted by the organization. Now the hard part begins as experts struggle to decide how to measure the success or failure over the coming 15 years of a staggeringly large number of goals and targets.

The opening declaration of the Sustainable Development Agenda is lofty in the extreme: In these Goals and targets, we are setting out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision. We envisage a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive.

The difference in scale between the MDGs and the SDGs is enormous. The MDGs had only 8 goals, 19 targets, and 44 indicators to measure those targets. The SDGs have 17 goals and 169 targets, which would suggest that measurement indicators could number in the paralyzing hundreds. The SDGs are universal, applying to all countries from the least to the most highly developed.

To continue reading this briefing, published by FUNDS, a research project of the City University of New York’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, click here.

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